Wetlands: Chapter Four

The glow of early twilight reflected Es’Con’s battered visage back at him using his own blood as a makeshift mirror. Groggily, he rose from the bowing position he had collapsed in and, through half-lidded eyes, sought anyone who may be lurking. It was too early for the elders to be milling about, especially after the night they had just been through. Their servants clearly were not due into the temple until after dawn. And there were no early worshipers settled in any of the prayer lines, which comforted Es’Con, knowing no one else would stumble upon him and likely face the same dreadful fate for discovering this nightmare. Then, when Es’Con thought he was utterly alone, his eyes grazed across the woman.

She sat on the other side of the pulpit, still stationary on her knees and seeming to favor her one side when positioning her round belly. Gargling out old blood that had pooled in his mouth, Es’Con fought to make words or anything more than sound but took a moment to recall his tongue was no longer with him. Despite the low blubbering he made, the girl focused on him and seemed to recognize his calls for attention. Es’Con then noted that her chains had been fixed to the altar, giving her some room to roam. However, it was unlikely enough to get all the way over to the hunter. Yet, she proceeded to crawl to the altar and pull herself up as to stand at it. Her gaze met Es’Con’s, and for a moment, he felt some sort of hope only for that expression she held to dash it violently like a stormy sea against the shores.

Opening her mouth revealed ashy gray internal parts, almost matching the water Es’Con had found her in. With that image came a squeak and a scratch of noise that didn’t quite sound like anything intelligible. Pausing then, aware her speech was as lacking with a tongue as Es’Con’s was without his, she searched the alter. Her eyebrows raised as she stopped glancing and found what she had sought desperately for all of a second. Taking the piece of flesh, still ruby red with a liveliness it likely shouldn’t have held, the girl pressed Es’Con’s tongue into her mouth. Thinking it was nothing but hunger and a bizarre form of desperate cannibalism, Es’Con looked away; however, when a woman’s voice echoed in the room, he turned back.

“You… yes, I remember you. Do not think I would mistake one of the men who pulled out of my embrace with the divine. Your actions could have killed me or my child,” with maliciousness in her eyes, she pulled herself as far as she could upon the altar. Hurling a flurry of lit candles down on Es’Con, she continued, “Did you think I would forget? Or forgive you? Not even by the grace of the almighty O-.” She halted in her assault and fondled in her mouth before pulling free Es’Con’s tongue and uttering some noise that could not have been made by any conventional means. Placing the borrowed piece of flesh back inside, she continued, “There is not long left for you or the other who pulled me out, and when the time comes, these elders of yours will scream and cry for mercy. Yes, the water, the water is flowing beneath, I can feel it.” Hissing through her teeth, the woman seemed wrapped with pleasure, “Soon, so soon I shall make it complete. Fool, foolish, fool of the land, you have forsaken your own, and now comes your judgment. Continue to cower, and fear but there is no time and no way to reverse the flow. We will be one once more with that almighty, and your kind shall be left to be swallowed by those crawling things of the sea.”

Initially, Es’Con had been overcome with revulsion and terror at the sight of this woman’s actions, if not her words, yet by the end of her diatribe, he found his strength. Staggering up to the altar, the hunter nearly collapsed but fought to keep his limbs under control. Deciding the route he would take was done spur of the moment and in rage. Taking the woman’s head in hand, he plunged his thumbs into her eyes. Blood-curdling shrieks echoed from her lips until the stolen tongue dropped free from where it had been stuck. Es’Con did not stop until slate gray fluid erupted from her sockets and poured down to stain the marble altar. As the elders piled out of their living quarters, Es’Con let go and allowed the woman to fall back on her hindquarters, squealing and crying all the while.

The elders reeled back, mortified that anyone would dare strike a pregnant woman, not to mention their shock at seeing Es’Con up so soon after the ordeal. For his part, the hunter again tried to force words out but was capable of little more than a blustering babble of incoherent groans. Once more coming to the realization of his newly gained disability, Es’Con took the only sensible course he had at hand, to flee. The servants of the elders were still yet to arrive, giving the hunter a chance at flight that would be unimpeded. However, even as he exited the temple and bolted through city streets, Es’Con realized he hadn’t any action to take or place for refugee. Yone Shire was no longer any home to him if he could not explain his situation to another. A fact driven home all the further, knowing he would be hunted by the elders. Yet, that line of logic led Es’Con to another plan of action.

Reaching the outer limits of the village and then coming to the clearing that sat between it and the cliffs to the lowlands, Es’Con sought the ultimate escape from his worries. He could summon a bug, dragonfly, or locus; it didn’t really matter what came to his aid. Using the insect, Es’Con would make it appear as though he had fled into the Wetlands to evade capture. Once out of sight, he could redirect his mount northward and return to the plateau in Illryn Doma. Life would be difficult for him, but it would all pan out after they realized he was a hunter and could still serve even without his tongue. Taking the pan flute that hung about the rider’s post just at the edge of the green space, Es’Con summoned a bug and put forth to set his plans into action.

A colossal cicada landed in the clearing, its buzzing must have woken the whole village, but Es’Con hardly thought of such a consequence. Hastily, he fitted the harness on the bug and blew the flute once more for it to take off. As it lifted above the trees, Es’Con could see hunters and warriors scrambling out of the bunkhouses and heading for the clearing. The elders, at least Hamah and Nemek, were out, beckoning the men to pursue their rouge comrade. Yet, shifting his gaze from the sea of men below, Es’Con viewed another, likely more fatal scourge working its way up from the Wetlands.

For the hunter, it was next to impossible to make out key details, and even if he could, they were less than necessary for him to make his assertion. Pale green dots, knotting together into clots and pushing towards the plateau could easily be seen from the height the cicada rose to. Had he a spyglass, Es’Con would have seen even more of the pods split open and expose their hosts to fresh air. They spasmed in the gray water until awakened, and then the mindless bodies would pull themselves up and join the mob. The sight took its toll on Es’Con’s weary mind, and unbeknownst to him, the cicada was picking up on the weak channels of air he blew into the flute. Taking these sounds as orders given, the bug flung itself east, over the village and nearly into some of the higher trees. The manic motions of the insect just barely broke Es’Con from his entranced state, and before he knew it, the hunter was clinging for dear life to the saddle. And though he may have thought himself well-muscled and quick-witted in any other circumstance, Es’Con found his weary body wanting as his grip began to slip from the leather and found only air as he fought to find a new handhold.

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